Student volunteers receive ‘exceptional’ praise following Special Olympics in Berlin

11th August 2023

A troop of undergraduate sports students from Sheffield Hallam University has been described as ‘motivated, committed and superb team players’ after volunteering at the Special Olympics World Games in Germany this summer.

Sheffield Hallam was the only UK University invited to participate in the Games and 14 student volunteers were placed in one of the most demanding functional areas of any major event – the media operations team. They were responsible for leading and managing other volunteers as well as having responsibility for ensuring the world’s media had access to the sports and athletes. 

The Special Olympics is the world's largest sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round training and activities to five million participants in 172 countries.

This year's Special Olympics were a celebration of inclusion for the 7,000 competitors in Berlin, including 82 from Great Britain, who have taken part in 26 sports. The city turned some of its largest venues into sporting facilities for the Games and there was a party beneath the Brandenburg Gate for the athletes to mark a week of competition. 

Layla Barrett, a sport and exercise science student, said:

“Having the opportunity to volunteer at the Special Olympic World Games was an amazing experience. Working within media operations as a key volunteer helped me to understand how important broadcast, journalists and photographers are in the running of such major events. 

“I was based at the Neptunbrunnen venue were the 3X3 Basketball was held and I was responsible for ensuring that the TV cameramen and photographers knew exactly where they were allowed to film and shoot from. 

“I had the opportunity to go onto the court each day and cheer for the athletes as they arrived and, occasionally, I got to play a warm-up game. On my last day at the event, I was given the opportunity of being part of the medal ceremony. I was so honoured to be the bearer of the gold medals. We did a rehearsal, so I knew where to walk and stand and then went straight into the ceremony – it was a great way to finish off my last day of volunteering. 

“Overall, it was a fantastic experience. I gained a huge amount of work experience and met a great bunch of people. I definitely want to volunteer at future events and maybe even work on major sport events in the future.” 

Dr Ruth M Crabtree, Head of Sheffield Hallam University’s Academy of Sport & Physical Activity, said

“I had the privilege to witness the work that our students undertook at the Special Olympics in Berlin, and I was ‘blown away’ by the commitment, professionalism and general warmth the students displayed.  They were exceptional in the way they undertook their duties, and also the way that they interacted with the athletes and spectators.  The Games offered our students applied learning at the highest level of global sport events, that demonstrated the power of sport and the best of humanity in every way.  I have never felt so proud to be associated with such fantastic students and staff that have enabled these opportunities.” 

Rosemary Leach, Principal Lecturer in the Academy of Sport & Physical Activity, said:

“Volunteering at such major sport events provides a unique opportunity for our students to experience working in a fast-paced and demanding environment. The feedback from colleagues in Berlin was exceptional. They described our students as ‘motivated, committed and superb team players’ saying that it was a pleasure to work with them.” 

Every student enrolled on an undergraduate course with Sheffield Hallam’s Academy of Sport & Physical Activity is offered a work placement as well as opportunities outside of the curriculum. There are currently more than 400 students from the Academy involved in placements, internships and volunteering. The University also offers a sandwich year where students can work in industry for 12 months. 

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